Life in a Northern Town

My expertise is in retirement income planning. I can assure you that the number one fear that clients have as they approach retirement is running out of money.

I have been a professional financial planner for a quarter century. When it comes to retirement income, there has always been the fear of finding out that you aren’t going to have enough, and now its too late to do anything about it. But the challenges that we are dealing with now seem only to exacerbate that basic fear.

Life in a northern town. Where you work hard, trying to get ahead. But unless you are totally brand new to the area, I don’t need to tell you what our economy has been like over the last few years. And while I very rarely will make bold claims about what is still to come, I think it is probably safe to say that the best prediction for the future is more uncertainty.

Given all this, what is a person to do?

Well, let me in on a little secret. It’s actually the number one thing that you can do to help you achieve your financial goals. And I am going to share it with you, right now, for free. Are you ready? Here it is!

Live within your means.

Spend less than you earn, and put a little away for the things that are important to you. That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Just live within your means.

This is one of those whole truths that is so common sense, so readily apparent, so obviously simple, that it can almost feel like a disappointment when you hear it. Were you expecting more? If so, perhaps we need to reflect on this a little further.

You see, it is easy to recognize something as wisdom. The harder part is to recognize where this fits into our own behaviours.

Here is what I mean. A while ago some people came to see me to talk about their finances, and the real motivating factor for them to get in to talk to a financial planner was they were in over their heads. They owed money to people, including to the Canada Revenue Agency, and work has been slow. They were hoping that I could help.

So far, so good. These people realized that they needed professional advice, and so they sought me out. That’s a wise thing to do.
Where this story takes an interesting twist (and, by the way, not an uncommon one), is that after they come to see me (keeping in mind that their motivation was the hope that I could help them out of their financial crunch), they then go and buy a new pickup truck.

Now, I don’t want this to come across the wrong way. I have certainly done plenty of things in my own life that, with the benefit of hindsight, a person can easily say, “Dude, what were you thinking?”

But, Dude, what were you thinking? You come to see me because you owe money to people, including CRA, and then AFTER you go and buy a new pickup?

And that, my friends, is the difference between recognizing wisdom, but failing to see how it relates to our own behaviours. It’s super easy to see when others make mistakes, but very much harder to recognize our own errors.

Which brings us back to the number one fear of people as they approach retirement – running out of money, and the number one thing you can do to achieve financial success – live within your means.

It is very easy to rationalize or justify your financial behaviours. You have been working hard and you deserve it, or the economy is bound to turn around soon, or you really need this thing.

But the reality is that a lot of people up here aren’t making the same income that they became accustomed to, and so they probably shouldn’t still be spending like its 2014. That, my friends, is life in a northern town.

Brad Brain. CFP, R.F.P., CIM, TEP is a Certified Financial Planner in Fort St John, BC. This material is prepared for general circulation and may not reflect your individual financial circumstances. Brad can be reached at

This article was posted in Smart Money Blog.
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